by Deepika Srivastava

Return of a King by William Dalrymple, Vintage, 560 pp.

Dalrymple Afghanistan

If you are one of those who wondered if History could actually mean ‘His’-story, then this is the book for you. Dalrymple, with his fluid prose, narrates the incidents of the First Afghan War, or the British Invasion of Afghanistan in 1839-42, with utmost clarity and vivacity. This war holds even more significance for us Indians, as the uprising of 1857 is said to be inspired from the Afghan war. As the reader closes the book, he cannot help but feel sympathetic for Shah Shuja-the supposed hero of the book, the hero who ultimately met a shoddy death at the hands of his own godson, and the king who the title talks about.

Vigorously researched, so much so that Dalrymple nearly lost his life, while doing the same, and immensely readable, Return of a King is history and literature at its best. The anecdotes by Mirza ‘Ata, Shah Shuja himself, British officers add colour and personality to a book, which otherwise could have been a mundane narration of history. During his perilous stay in Kabul, Dalrymple unearthed a plethora of lost, valuable literary resources. He made use of Afghanistan’s national archives, discovered the remains of private libraries abandoned by their aristocratic owners, epic poems and reconstructed a web of factions and friendships among the Afghan leaders, a world which blissfully eluded the British. The screeching details take the form of capsule biographies of almost each character. His words make the worst military disaster of the 19th century come alive for the reader. 

Five plots, a few bad characters and a twist in the tale: Daily O

William DalrympleLast week, columnist Malavika Sangghvi wrote about a leaked email exchange (from a couple of months ago) between Aatish Taseer and William Dalrymple, two writers who have a little bit of history. Dalrymple, apparently, sought to end the needle by offering an olive branch: he invited Taseer to speak at the 2016 Jaipur Literature Festival, on a panel discussion about Manto and the Partition (Taseer has, in the past, translated Manto’s stories into English).

William Dalrymple’s account of how the East India Company conquered, subjugated and plundered vast tracts of south Asia: The Guardian

WD4One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century.